Group hopes to save Gander airport terminal

Brandon Anstey - Special to the Beacon
Published on May 31, 2014
Gander International Airport. — TC Media file photo

As the fate of Gander airport’s international terminal remains up in the air, one resident is advocating for the preservation of the building.

Michael Fantuz, a visual artist, is well aware of the importance of historical landmarks and the art housed in the terminal.

“I’m just trying to get more information on it to see how to get people more collectively involved in it, and where to go from there so there could be a more organized approach to coming up with a solution to saving that particular space,” said Fantuz.

“I think the shared concern would definitely be the conservation of the international terminal space as realistically as possible. So, that means something that would be both feasible and applicable to the airport authority and to the space in general.

“Whether that means a design of the new terminal would incorporate that existing space completely, which would be fantastic. However, the reality is that it isn’t a feasible space. It’s not sustainable because the income isn’t there.”

The terminal was constructed in 1959, a time when international traffic was heavy and business was booming. The international terminal was a stopping point for more than 400,000 people a year and was designed to reflect a modernist culture which echoed the way of the future.

Now the terminal’s size outweighs its demand.

The building takes in about 106,000 square feet, which according to the Gander International Airport Authority, is about 70,000 square feet more than it needs.

It costs approximately $900,000 annually for heat and lights in the terminal, and that cost is not feasible if the airport is to prosper in the future, Gander International Airport CEO Gary Vey has said.

One of the goals for the airport association in 2014 is to decide the future of the terminal, and that has  Fantuz helping to spearhead a movement to keep the current infrastructure intact.

Fantuz said the airport association has done a good job of keeping history alive despite its high cost, and he applauds their efforts and understands their wanting to maintain a profitable airport.

“That building is absolutely enormous, and it’s incredible that (the airport association) has spent as much money as they have over the years to preserve the whole building, and particularly that space. They really deserve a lot of credit,” he said.

“The way I feel about it, as a community, it would be great if everybody was able to rally around the significance of that fact alone, and then rally our government officials, both provincially and federally, to say this is an important space and they’re willing to help out to a certain degree or however they can in order to have this space saved.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most important airport in the world, and that’s been quoted in the New York Times and several other major publications.”

A question of viability

The airport association shares the concern about the terminal’s future, said its CEO, but the airport’s viability must be front and centre.

“There’s no doubt we have great concerns over what might happen to it,” said Vey.

“Anything that we can do to assist the preservation of it, we would certainly be interested in doing that, of course, but we have to be mindful of the impacts that it may have on our operations. … So, I guess us being sympathetic is one thing, but for us to have the money and time to put into it is something else.

“We’re fearful any obligation that we may have towards this building in the future would be to the detriment of the airport’s viability and we have to be concerned of that. Although, we certainly share the view that if something can be done with the building or if there’s a way to preserve it, then we’d fully support that.

“It would be a sin for it to be torn down or have it destroyed in some way, but we do have to be realistic. It’s a tough decision for everybody, and it’s not one we are taking very lightly, to be honest, but it’s one we felt we had to take. The people want an airport first and foremost, and as much as the terminal means to them, a viable airport is much more important to the community.”

Fantuz said the province has committed to taking an advisory role in the group’s attempts to preserve the terminal, and the aim now is to raise awareness and look for solutions.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is to get the place put on a Top 10 endangered historical sites list,” said Fantuz.

“The other thing we’re trying to do is, I’ve been speaking with (the airport association) about the possibility of having the site designated as a national historic site, and what the implications would be for the airport and for the community at large. We’re trying to find out what that means specifically, and what kind of possible funding there would be from the federal government.”

The airport association is mindful of the efforts to preserve the terminal, and will help to keep as much of it as possible if there’s no solution found, said Vey.

“If a use can’t be found for it, and it does have to come down, then we’ve instructed our architects and engineers to incorporate as much of the old building into the new one as we possibly can,” said Vey.

“The wrecking ball is not ominously swinging over our head at the moment. We’ve got a couple-year window before we have to make some hard and fast decisions.

“We’ve issued a contract to an internationally and nationally recognized firm that specializes in the design of airports and terminal buildings.

“We’ve asked them to come up with two things in the first phase —the first, to come up with a location that the new terminal building would be best suited to, and to come up with an artist’s conception of what it might look like with 3D images that we could release to the community.”

That information is due in September and the airport association says it will hold a public viewing to answer any questions people might have.

The Beacon